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Mum tells inquest she struggled before death
Sean Murphy. Picture: Supplied

The mother of a Perth toddler who died after being trapped in a closed washing machine has told an inquest she struggled, but she loved her son and was more frustrated at herself for her inability to cope.

Kerry Murphy has taken the stand in the Coroner’s Court during the inquest into her three-year-old son Sean Murphy’s death in her public housing Hilton home on September 20, 2010.

Ms Murphy claimed she overslept until 1.30pm and woke up to find Sean and a pet cat inside the closed washing machine.

The 27-year-old said there was no reason why she would sleep so late that day, but that Sean could be quiet especially when he was doing something wrong.

Ms Murphy said she had tipped the lounge room and Sean's bedroom upside down while searching for him in a panic and while her son had made a mess while she was asleep, she believed other things had been moved after police asked her to leave the house.

She said after frantically searching, she noticed something in the washing machine which had been empty the night before.

Ms Murphy said she had to get the cat Snowy out of the machine first because he was wrapped around Sean and in her way of getting to her son.

When asked by counsel assisting the Coroner Emily Winborne, Ms Murphy denied putting her son inside the washing machine.

When asked to explain why she told police she was searching for Sean for 40 to 50 minutes when phone records show she called triple zero less than six minutes after supposedly being woken by a phone call from her partner, she said it had been a rough estimate and it was what time felt like.

Ms Murphy said she believed her house was messier in police photographs than it actually was.

"I wouldn’t say my house was exactly tidy, but it was lived in and safe for my son," she said.

"When I was looking for my son I knew the hallway entrance was clear because that’s where I laid my son."
She admitted she did not see animal faeces on the floor of Sean’s bedroom.

Ms Murphy said she did struggle with how to deal with Sean’s behaviour, which included biting, kicking, screaming and smashing his head against brick walls.

"As a young, single mum I was struggling ... your first child is always difficult. You don’t know what to expect, you don’t know what you’re doing half the time."

When asked to describe her behaviour towards Sean, Ms Murphy replied: "Very affectionate, loving, caring, I did spoil him, what Sean wanted, Sean got."

Ms Murphy said she did not normally sleep in but Sean could play by himself, sometimes even for a full day without him seeking her out.

She said she kept her house child safe, but admitted there were hair clippers and a knife and scissors on the kitchen bench.

Ms Murphy said she had fights with her de facto partner Craig Sheppard about housework and described him as "lazy".

She admitted she and Mr Sheppard used a rope and bandage to tie Sean’s bedroom door to keep him in his room during "time out", which was Mr Sheppard’s suggestion.

She said she stopped the practice about three months before Sean’s death because "it wasn’t right".

"I would never condone locking a child away but I had tried everything else," she said.

Ms Murphy also said Mr Sheppard had a violent streak and wanted the house run a certain way.

"I didn’t cope very well with it ... I did the best I could," she said.

"I didn’t get impatient with him, I got frustrated with how I wasn’t dealing with things ... and no I never took that out on my son."

Ms Murphy accepted she said "I've killed my baby" repeatedly in the presence of paramedics, because if she had been awake he would not have hid in the machine and she thought she might have injured him doing CPR.

She said about six months before his death, Sean had gotten into a dryer, without a door, in a game of hide and seek with his cousin.

Ms Murphy said Mr Sheppard took a photo of a smiling Sean inside the dryer. "I didn't laugh with him ... I didn't explain it was dangerous, I probably should have done," she said. "I would never encourage that sort of behaviour."

An acquaintance of Ms Murphy’s, William Morrison, told the court he had a conversation with her on a boat in which she told him something like: "Sometimes I could choke the little bastard or bugger."

In his police statement, Mr Morrison said Ms Murphy said words to the effect: "I could kill him sometimes, I hate that little bastard."

Mr Morrison described Ms Murphy as a loving mother and said at the time he did not take her comments seriously, but came forward after Sean’s death thinking it might be relevant.

Ms Murphy said she was loving to animals before being shown mobile phone footage of her repeatedly placing a cat in front of a dog, that led to Ms Murphy being convicted of animal cruelty.

The inquest continues.